The Financial Times is lucky. It’s in the minority of newspapers that
can legitimately claim to have found ‘success’ with an internet pay wall.
The company’s subscribers pay upwards of $180 a year to access content
on the Financial Times’ website, FT.com, which is behind one of the more
solid
pay walls around.

But that pay wall isn’t impervious; it may be coming down if you’re a certain type of mobile internet user in certain geographic regions. That’s because,
according to Business Insider, the Financial Times will soon launch an
initiative with Foursquare that will give some Foursquare users who check
into certain businesses in certain locations the ability to access
FT.com without a paid subscription.

Business Insider’s Gillian Reagan explains:

Here is how it will work: The FT partnered with select coffee shops located by major financial centers and near business schools including Columbia, Harvard, the London School of Economics, London Business School and London’s Cass Business School.

Visitors to the cafes can “check-in” on Foursquare and then earn a secret code to unlock premium FT.com subscriptions.

The goal of this initiative: to engage younger readers who, in many cases, aren’t (yet?) ready to shell out hundreds of dollars for an FT.com subscription.

Reagan quotes an FT.com spokesman, who elaborated via email, “We’re always looking for new ways to engage with our audience and tap into a younger demographic and a new generation of FT readers and social media channels are central to this [new Foursquare partnership]. Facebook is a great example as our average fan is about 10 years younger than the average FT reader.

A spokesman for FT.com clarified that not all Foursquare users will be able to access FT.com for free. Only the ‘mayors’ will be granted a free pass, and only for a limited time. He added that the finer details still need to be ironed out before the scheme launches.

Nevertheless, decision to use Foursquare could turn out to be a smart one. While Foursquare isn’t nearly as popular as, say, Facebook or Twitter, it is perfectly suited to help the Financial Times do something interesting because Foursquare is a location-oriented service, and location-based targeting could, in theory, be just the way to tear down a pay wall in a strategic fashion that literally ‘pays off‘ in the long run.

After all, the Financial Times isn’t just looking to court a younger demographic in general; it’s looking to court a very specific younger demographic, namely tomorrow’s titans of industry and captains of finance. Where many of these future leaders are hanging out isn’t a secret, and the Financial Times’ ability to limit the provision of FT.com access codes to Foursquare users who check in at specific locales means the Financial Times can target locations that are most likely to be popular with this group. Its initiative is fun and rewarding to boot, which boosts the all-important ‘engagement‘ factor.

Assuming the Financial Times’ reported deal with Foursquare is accurate, the arrangement will be provide a good case study for how print publishers can avoid being trapped by black-and-white ‘free versus paid‘ debates. In short, the Financial Times is demonstrating that a newspaper can have its pay wall and tear it down too.

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